Viral: The Search for the Origin of Covid-19 (Paperback)
"Chan and Ridley write with an urgency...that inspires gripping depictions of what viruses are, how infectious-disease laboratories work and wonderfully lucid descriptions of bats. . . . They powerfully recount how dangerous pathogens can both leak from a lab and emerge in nature." (New York Times Book Review)
Understanding how Covid-19 started is crucial for the future of humankind. Viral is the most incisive and authoritative book about the search for the source of the virus.
A new virus descended on the human species in 2019 wreaking unprecedented havoc. Finding out where it came from and how it first jumped into people is an urgent priority, but early expectations that this would prove an easy question to answer have been dashed. Nearly two years into the pandemic, the crucial mystery of the origin of SARS-CoV-2 is not only unresolved but has deepened.
In this uniquely insightful book, a scientist and a writer join forces to try to get to the bottom of how a virus whose closest relations live in bats in subtropical southern China somehow managed to begin spreading among people more than 1,500 kilometres away in the city of Wuhan. They grapple with the baffling fact that the virus left none of the expected traces that such outbreaks usually create: no infected market animals or wildlife, no chains of early cases in travellers to the city, no smouldering epidemic in a rural area, no rapid adaptation of the virus to its new host—human beings.
To try to solve this pressing mystery, Viral delves deep into the events of 2019 leading up to 2021, the details of what went on in animal markets and virology laboratories, the records and data hidden from sight within archived Chinese theses and websites, and the clues that can be coaxed from the very text of the virus’s own genetic code.
The result is a gripping detective story that takes the reader deeper and deeper into a metaphorical cave of mystery. One by one the authors explore promising tunnels only to show that they are blind alleys, until, miles beneath the surface, they find themselves tantalisingly close to a shaft that leads to the light.
About the Author
Matt Ridley's books have sold over a million copies, been translated into 31 languages and won several awards. His books include The Red Queen, Genome, The Rational Optimist and The Evolution of Everything. His book on How Innovation Works was published in 2020, and Viral: the Search for the Origin of Covid-19, co-authored with Alina Chan, was published in 2021. He sat in the House of Lords between 2013 and 2021 and served on the science and technology select committee and the artificial intelligence select committee. He was founding chairman of the International Centre for Life in Newcastle. He created the Mind and Matter column in the Wall Street Journal in 2010, and was a columnist for the Times 2013-2018. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and of the Academy of Medical Sciences, and a foreign honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He lives in Northumberland.
Dr. Alina Chan is a postdoctoral researcher with a background in medical genetics, synthetic biology, and vector engineering. At the Broad Institute of MIT & Harvard, Dr. Chan is currently creating next generation vectors for human gene therapy. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Chan began to investigate problems relevant to finding the origins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and in parallel spearheaded the development of the COVID-19 CoV Genetics (covidcg.org) browser for scientists worldwide to rapidly track virus lineages and mutations by locations and date ranges of interest. Follow Dr. Alina Chan on Twitter at @Ayjchan
"Chan and Ridley write with urgency in defending why people ought to take the SARS-CoV-2 lab-leak hypothesis seriously...That urgency inspires gripping depictions of what viruses are, how infectious-disease laboratories work and wonderfully lucid descriptions of bats...They powerfully recount how dangerous pathogens can both leak from a lab and emerge in nature."
— New York Times Book Review
"Viral collates a series of circumstantial but damning points in favour of the lab-leak hypothesis." — Sunday Times (London)
"Chan and Ridley's new book is a viral whodunnit that is sure to appeal to armchair detectives." — The Guardian
“Alina Chan and Matt Ridley assemble perhaps the most comprehensive case for the lab-leak theory currently available.” — Wall Street Journal
“Both journalists and armchair detectives interested in the mystery of the coronavirus were discovering Chan as a kind of Holmes to our Watson. She crunched information at twice our speed, zeroing in on small details we’d overlooked, and became a go-to for anyone looking for spin-free explications of the latest science on COVID-19.” — Boston Globe Magazine